Comment – How an effective wellbeing strategy can create happy and robust workforces

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John Dean explores the first steps employers can take when looking after employees’ health and wellbeing

The latest Employee Wellbeing Research 2018 from the Reward & Employee Benefits Association highlights a big jump in the number of companies implementing wellbeing programmes in the UK. Nearly half (45 per cent) now having a defined wellbeing strategy in place – up from less than a third (30 per cent) in 2016. And 84 per cent of employers that don’t yet have a plan say they will introduce one within the next 12 months or over the next three years.

Increasingly, wellbeing is becoming a core part of building employee engagement and creating the right culture. More than ever before, employees are also looking to their employers to help them access services to stay fit and healthy.

A growing area of concern for employers is mental health. Whereas in previous years, few employers talked openly about mental health issues, now three in five (60 per cent) CEOs say it is the area of employee wellbeing that interests the board most. There is also a clear recognition that high-pressured working environments put employees’ physical and mental health at risk.

However, despite the growth in businesses adopting wellbeing programmes, the research also points out that few strategies are being driven by the board. Fewer than one in 10 (8 per cent) respondents said their board actively drives the organisation’s wellbeing agenda, and 5 per cent claimed their board has little or no interest in employee wellbeing.

For wellbeing programmes to succeed, they must be integrated into the business strategy and prioritised by the board. Whether it involves flexible working, onsite gyms, quick access to healthcare services or mental health support, building the right programme for the workforce is essential. But how can companies do this?

Developing a wellbeing programme

The first step is for an organisation to understand its people and their health and wellbeing needs. Unless they can identify the specific challenges they face – whether that is high levels of stress, poor sleep, money worries, lack of exercise or mental health concerns – they won’t be able to create an effective strategy.

We recommend they conduct a full review of all the data available within the organisation to pinpoint areas that need attention. This would include analysing the demographics, looking at absence management data to identify the most common reasons for short and long-term absence and looking at the take-up and popularity of any existing wellbeing initiatives, among other things. What wellbeing initiatives do employees like the most? If this isn’t clear, they should be surveyed to find out.

Once employers have a clearer picture, they can build a tailored programme with quantifiable objectives and get buy-in from the board. Leading from the top is essential to ensure success and having someone at board level truly champion the wellbeing strategy can be a strong motivator for employees. It’s also useful to involve other potential wellbeing ‘champions’ at an early stage, especially if the business has several locations.

To support staff with mental illness, employers could provide access to support services such as counselling, mental health first aiders and employee assistance programmes. Line manager training is also vital to ensure they have the right skills and can support and manage employees with a mental health condition.

Finally, linking wellbeing programmes to national health campaigns can improve their effectiveness. For example, Mental Health Awareness Week is coming up in May and this could be a great opportunity for companies to start talking about mental health issues and ensuring people know what support is available for them.

The provision of wellbeing services is critical for employee engagement and creating a positive working culture. But any plan needs to be relevant and targeted to the needs of the workforce if it is to achieve results for employee health goals – and business goals.

While there will always be a discussion around cost and whether companies can afford to implement a strategy, the only question they really need to ask is: can they afford not to?

John Dean is chief commercial officer at Punter Southall Health & Protection 

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